Eighteen-year-old Lismore beach sprinter Aaron Stubbs is $40,000 richer after taking out the 128th edition of the Australia Post Stawell Gift.
Wearing shoes sent to him back in 2003 by five-time Australian 100m champion Matt Shirvington, Stubbs blitzed the field from the gun and quickly gathered in the front markers.
The pre-race favourite was never challenged, winning by nearly two metres in 11.87 with an assisting wind of 1.2m/s.
“This is massive. I am so happy,” said the elated osteopathy student from Lismore.
After the completion of the heats on Saturday, this was meant to be one of the closest Stawell Gifts in recent memory, but Stubbs changed all that in the semi-finals where he cracked the magical 12-second barrier with an air-punching 11.90 seconds, ensuring he would start the final as the $1.55 firm favourite with the bookmakers.
After winning the open and Under-19 Australian beach sprint double earlier this year in Perth, Stubbs was confident that he would hold up through the three rounds in Stawell.
“At the surf nationals I didn’t actually get the best start but I really finished well and ran past everyone, which gave me confidence for the 120m,” he said.
Running the fastest time seen at Central Park since 1995, Stubbs drew inspiration from a past winner and from one of Australia’s fastest ever sprinters.
“It means so much. When I was watching Mott (referring to 2006 winner Adrian Mott) a few years ago I thought that’s what I would love to happen to me one day and it has,” he said.
An autograph-seeking encounter as a 10-year-old with Australia’s second fastest sprinter ever Matt Shirvington earned him a signature and a pair of the Sydney Olympian’s spikes.
Shirvington, who sent Stubbs the spikes after he ran his fastest ever time on Australian soil, a 10.09 dash at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast, was pleased to have inspired the winner.
“You don’t think about what might happen when you meet young kids at clinics or sign autographs but it’s fantastic to know that I could inspire someone to win,” said Shirvington.
“But I’m sure it’s not just the shoes. He has obviously done a lot of work and to run that time is sensational.”
Stubbs thanked his family and his coach Ryan Hoffman for their support.
“I’d like to thank my parents Paul and Linda, my coach Ryan and my brother. There’s so many people,” he said.
Hoffman, a perennial Stawell Gift semi-finalist, knew his charge would handle the pressure well.
“I’ve been working with Aaron for three years and he’s a smart boy,” said Hoffman.
“I didn’t have to talk to him between the semi and the final. He knew what he was doing.”
His father Paul, who is himself a handy sprinter and ran in the heats of the Gift where he finished second, was quietly confident that his son would win.
“I knew after the Australian beach titles how well he would go. He’s just so strong,” he said.
Stubbs has no grand plans for the $40,000 winner’s cheque.
“I’m living away from home at the moment for uni so this will go to buying some good food for once and not just the cheap stuff,” he said.
The minor placings were filled by Moreland’s Paul Tancredi (12.04 seconds) and fast-finishing Queenslander Matt Davies, who flew home from the backmark of 2.25m to record an impressive 12.08 seconds.
Picture courtesy of Shane Goss – The Licorice Gallery